Some good news at last: The return of Norwich Market

Norwich Market is mostly open which is fantastic news for food lovers like Andy Newman. Pictured are

Norwich Market is mostly open which is fantastic news for food lovers like Andy Newman. Pictured are James and Brendan on Mike, Debs and Sons fruit and veg stall Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

It’s time to embrace one of the jewels in Norfolk’s food crown once again, says an upbeat Andy Newman

There has not been a great deal of good news lately, so the announcement that Norwich Market is substantially back up and running this week is something to be celebrated.

While it may take some time for it to get up to speed, the truth is that a good number of the food stalls there have spent the past 10 weeks building up a larger and even more loyal customer base. Now it is up to us, as consumers, to continue that level of support as things start to get back to something resembling normal.

Of course, the market has not been completely closed at all through lockdown. Paul’s the butchers was only closed for a day, before coming back to serve customer both in person and via daily deliveries. City Fish was shut for about three weeks, but has been doing a good trade from its stall ever since, as well as delivering every afternoon to those who couldn’t get out.

I am one of the many people who have taken advantage of the fruit and vegetable delivery service from Mike and Debs, which they set up pretty much immediately lockdown was announced. There will be many who were initially worried about whether fresh produce was going to be hard to come by, and who have been grateful to find the finest quality fruit and veg delivered to their doorsteps.

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Regular readers of this column will know that I am a real champion of local, independent food retailers, and I have been known to have a pop at the large supermarkets for the way that they treat suppliers and small, local competitors.

So it’s only fair that I acknowledge that by and large the supermarkets have performed well during the crisis, staying open and keeping supplies rolling, and prioritising delivery slots and early morning shopping hours for vulnerable people and key workers. Let us hope the crisis has allowed them to find a new social purpose.

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That said, many local consumers have discovered that they can feed themselves really well without relying on supermarkets for everything. The crisis has shone the spotlight on local suppliers, whether they are wholesalers who have repurposed their operations to serve consumers, or market stallholders who have embraced online ordering and home deliveries.

So now that the lockdown is easing, let’s not simply revert to how it was before, lazily relying on supermarkets for all of our food and drink needs. We now know that there is a whole raft of local companies available. We have been relying on them when times were tough; as things ease, we should repay their sometimes heroic efforts to keep us fed by sticking with them.

Some people have complained that social distancing will be difficult within the confines of Norwich Market. But its corridors are no more narrow than many supermarket aisle, and a sensible one-way system has been introduced to help shoppers flow through the stalls safely. What’s more, in my experience there is a growing minority of supermarket shoppers who don’t think the social distancing rules apply to them; on the market people seem to be more courteous and considerate. And the last Luddite few stallholders who were hanging onto the past and only accepting cash have now been forced into he 21st century – contactless payment is everywhere.

Of course, realistically we are some way off the time when we will be able to enjoy the full-scale hustle and bustle of the market, grazing street food and interacting like we used to. But now that it has fully reopened, surely now is an opportunity to ensure it remains one of the jewels in Norfolk’s food crown; I urge you to support the local, independent traders who make such an asset for the city.

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